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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, Japan Set Up Peace Commission

Seeking to end decades of mistrust between their countries, senior Russian and Japanese diplomats Thursday formed a joint commission to work on a peace treaty, a piece of unfinished business dating to the end of World War II.

The commission will be headed by foreign ministers Yevgeny Primakov of Russia and Keizo Obuchi of Japan, with its first session to be held during Obuchi's visit to Moscow in late February, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Thursday's meeting grew out of a Siberian summit between President Boris Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto last November. At the summit, the two leaders pledged to conclude a peace treaty by 2000.

The negotiations were also part of Moscow's diplomatic effort to improve relations with Asian giants Japan and China after decades of friction with both. Russia believes strong ties to Asia will serve as a counterbalance to the power and influence of the United States.

Moscow and Tokyo never signed a peace treaty following World War II, and they remain divided over the Kuril Islands, which Russia seized from Japan in the final days of the war. Japan has consistently demanded the return of the four southernmost islands in the Kuril chain.

The two countries signed a 1993 document that formally recognized the existence of the Kuril Islands' dispute, but neither side has shown any sign of compromising.

Last year's informal summit in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk did not produce any breakthrough on the Kuril issue, and the leaders of Russia and Japan provided no explanations on how they planned to resolve it.

Thursday's talks, held at the Foreign Ministry mansion in Moscow, were headed by Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and his Japanese counterpart, Minoru Tamba.

Tamba hailed the Krasnoyarsk summit as "a watershed in relations ... so important that in the future people describing relations between the two countries will speak of 'before Krasnoyarsk' and 'after Krasnoyarsk.'"

Karasin, in turn, noted that bilateral atmosphere and cooperation have "significantly improved" lately, Russian reports said.

Other Russian officials noted that it would not be that easy to reach a full settlement between the two nations.

"In order to have a possible compromise approved by the leadership and parliaments of the two countries ... one has to work hard, and we are poised for this," said Alexander Losyukov, the head of the Foreign Ministry's Asia department.

The two sides already have started to implement some aspects of a cooperation plan worked out in Krasnoyarsk, preparing a training visit of Russian civil servants to Japan and accelerating contacts between military officials.

The peace talks would also be continued in the format of a newly formed subcommission, to be headed by deputy foreign ministers of Russia and Japan.

Hashimoto has invited Yeltsin and his family to visit Japan in April for an informal summit.